By Obi Nwakanma, The Orbit/Vanguard
Two weeks ago, in two separate interviews with Olu Falae, published by two Nigerian newspapers, one of which of course was the Sunday Vanguard, Nigerians were afforded a rare glimpse into the soul of the man. It was a troubled soul.
Falae emerged from the picture, a man haunted by the nightmare of history. One clear testimony of Falae’s troubles was his anxiety about his legacy: with his children and grand children, he says, now being mostly foreign born, Falae wondered, what would become of his legacy.
Who, in other words, would be the legatees of Olu Falae after all his earthly work and struggles, and after his life time of strivings to build, and possibly establish his lineage? I should say that Olu Falae has voiced the silent nightmare of the Nigerian elite: the nightmare of an empty nest in spite of all that nest making. The possible futility of it all.
What is it worth after all, at least for some, who would have no one to whom they’d leave legacies? We procreate in order to continue the line of our humanity, and to leave the signatures of this humanity behind to those who would “keep the shrine of our fathers and protect the altar of our gods.”
What we have instead, as Olu Falae has discerned, is that many of the children and grand children of the Nigerian elite are now no longer born to the land. They are now “foreign born” and that is disturbing Olu Falae a great deal. Yet, the scattering of our seeds on all the corners of the earth, some would argue, is not such a difficult thing to understand.
But it is much like the parable of the sower in the great book: some seeds will fall upon rich soil and bloom, some will fall on rock and wither, and wherever the seeds that survive bloom, therein is their rich soil. It is as the Igbo say, ebe onye bi, k’onawachi.
Those wise Igbo of old knew that the notion of “home” is a most complex construct: home is wherever we keep most sacred and holy. Identity is also a traveller: it changes with circumstances. Once our habitation suffers devastation, we carry our homes in us as migrants only in the pouches of our souls.
This is exactly what has happened to many of us, Nigerians, scattered on the face of the earth today, giving life to a new generation of people born in exile, who now claim the citizenship of other nations.
These children are like us, born at the crossroads: my own generation was between independence, war and military dictatorship. Our children are the products of our restless loins and disconsolate journeys fleeing from instability.
Many of our children may visit Nigeria only once to bury those of us, who may wish to be interred in Nigeria, and thereafter, return permanently to their homes: the places that have given them succour and purpose.
This is the fate that Falae laments: that Nigeria has driven a wedge between him and the generation of his lineage that will come after him, for whom Nigeria will never be sacred ground.
I always give the example of the late Professor Eni Njoku and his only son, Dr. Eni Njoku jnr. Professor Eni Njoku was Nigeria’s first minister of mines and power, chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Corporation in 1956, dean of science at the University College Ibadan, first vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos, vice-chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and adviser to the head of state of the Peoples Republic of Biafra, and thereafter professor of the life sciences at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. This scholar-statesman was one of the iconic figures of his generation, and one of the builders of modern Nigeria, before the locusts invaded.
Professor Eni Njoku’s only son, Dr. G. Eni Njoku jnr, is an equally accomplished man. Educated at Cambridge and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he earned his Ph.D in 1976, he is currently supervisor of the Water and Carbon Cycles Group at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
He had attempted to return; to heed that call to build his natal home, just like his father before him. He spent one year as senior lecturer in the Department of Engineering at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu from 1980 to 1981.
He left after one year. In that one year, apparently, he had judged Nigeria unappreciative, and thus, undeserving of his talents. Perhaps the conditions of life were just too precarious for him and his young family.
Perhaps he did not have the stoic hope or the dreams of his father’s generation who saw the full measure of their lives as the charge to rebuild Africa after millennia of devastation by conquest, slavery, and colonialism. The upshot is that Professor Eni Njoku’s lineage no longer belongs to Ebem; they are now American; and Eni Njoku’s grave lies desolate in Ebem Ohafia, and in time, may be erased by the wilderness.
This was not the Nigeria that Eni Njoku and his peers hoped for, and tried to build. But let me place Falae’s dilemma in some perspective: Samuel Oluyemisi Falae should hardly be the Nigerian to complain about these things. He had the opportunity only very few Nigerians ever had to build a nation: he was part of the powerful mandarinate of federal permanent secretaries in his thirties; he was Nigeria’s minister of finance, and he was the secretary to the government in the Ibrahim Babangida dictatorship.
In all his years in public service, we can discern hardly any transformations that led to the edification of Nigeria.
Indeed, most Nigerians charge him and Kalu Idika Kalu for constructing and implementing the economic policies of the IMF which led finally to the situation that destroyed Nigeria, and drove more people out in search of new beginnings. Reading his interviews with the Sun Newspaper and the Vanguard, it struck me that the greatest sin of the Nigerian elite is presumption: they presume to know all the right things that are good for Nigerians. There is the monarchical instinct, in which the benefit of citizenship is hierarchical.